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If you’re a citizen of a foreign country, in most cases you’ll need a visa to enter the United States.

A visa doesn’t permit entry to the U.S., however. A visa simply indicates that your application has been reviewed by a U.S. consular officer at an American embassy or consulate, and that the officer has determined you’re eligible to enter the country for a specific purpose. Consular affairs are the responsibility of the U.S. Department of State.

A visa allows you to travel to the United States as far as the port of entry (airport or land border crossing) and ask the immigration officer to allow you to enter the country. Only the immigration officer has the authority to permit you to enter the United States. He or she decides how long you can stay for any particular visit. Immigration matters are the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

There are two categories of U.S. visas: immigrant and nonimmigrant.

Immigrant visas are for people who intend to live permanently in the U.S. Nonimmigrant visas are for people with permanent residence outside the U.S. but who wish to be in the U.S. on a temporary basis – for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work or study.

“Advance Parole in advance” sounds a bit repetitive, but the fact is, if you don’t apply early for travel persmission, officially known as “Advance Parole,” you might find yourself in a serious pickle when it comes to travel plans.

If you have an adjustment of status application pending, apply for Advance Parole right away, unless you are on a dual-intent visa such as an H-1B. If you were on a single-intent visa (e.g. an F-1 student visa) when you applied for your green card, however, your visa was void the moment you applied (or got married). Do not travel on that visa or you could be denied re-entry into the U.S. and banned from returning. Advance Parole is important. Even if you don’t plan to travel, you never know when a family emergency, work obligation or sweepstakes vacation abroad might come up. Be prepared!

You can apply for Advance Parole at USCIS Service Centers or at local USCIS district offices.

Nonimmigrant Visas

Nonimmigrant visas are for people with permanent residence outside the U.S. but who wish to go to the U.S. on a temporary basis – for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work, or study.

U.S. law requires that people who apply for nonimmigrant visas provide evidence that they don’t intend to immigrate to the United States. It’s up to consular officers at U.S. embassies and consulates to determine eligibility on an individual basis on the merits of each case. Providing requested documents does not guarantee that you will receive a visa. There is no entitlement to a visa.

And, because each person’s personal situation is different, people applying for the same visa may be asked different questions and be required to submit different documents. Under U.S. law, the authority to issue or refuse visas is vested solely in consular offices abroad. Consular officers have the authority to decide whether the evidence submitted in support of an application is sufficient to establish an applicant’s eligibility for a visa. Consular officers may request additional information or documentation depending on their assessment of each person’s situation.

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